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Glass shows its flamboyant beauty

On display this weekend are the works of a half-dozen groups of artists, some from Sandy and Eagle Creek
by: Jim Hart Judy Keen of Eagle Creek holds one of the artistic plates she created in her glass art studio. Keen's art and others from Sandy and Eagle Creek will join hundreds of other displays at the Oregon Convention Center in the coming weekend.

Talk about multi-media. The annual Gathering of the Guilds is something to talk about - something to write home about.

From the eastern part of the metro area, three glass artists - two from Eagle Creek and one from Sandy - will join other members of the Oregon Glass Guild at the Oregon Convention Center for three days of art show and tell.

While the glass guild's exhibits are self-described as an 'essential part of the gathering,' visitors at the 12th annual show also will see the works of jewelers and sculptors, members of the Creative Metal Arts Guild as well as the ceramic showcase created by members of the Oregon Potters Guild.

Also filling the large rooms of the convention center are the works of members of the Portland Bead Society, Guild of Oregon Woodworkers, Portland Handweavers Guild and Northwest Fine Woodworkers.

Local artists, including Judy Keen of Eagle Creek, are excited to show their creative art at the early May show.

Judy Keen

It was Keen's husband, Tom Keen, an officer at Clackamas County Bank in Sandy, who showed his wife an iridescent glass plate brought to the bank by his coworker, Cathy Stuchlik.

That was the catalyst that launched Keen's third career. She already had years of experience in textiles and arranging flowers.

'When I saw that plate,' she said, 'I was speechless. I didn't know anything as beautiful as that could be handcrafted. Immediately, I knew I had to do it.'

She enrolled in classes and began an intense period of learning, acquiring a kiln within six months.

Eight years later, Keen has a studio, a large kiln and an active life creating art pieces that can be both practical and artistic. Her Eagle Creek business is called JK Glass Works.

'It's almost an obsession with me now,' she said.

She doesn't have a storefront or a gallery, but she visits a number of glass shows each year, and that's how she sells most of her creative, colorful works.

There are many techniques that can create beautiful pieces of art from pieces of glass, and Keen uses many of them. She likes the result of fusing glass together with heat, but if you ask her which she prefers, she'll say, 'sandblasting.'

With that process, glass can be either matte finish after the application of sand or, if fired inside the kiln at an excess of 1,300 degrees, the specific areas treated with sand become flawlessly smooth.

Using her artistic talents (she's also a painter) she creates small figures using the flame of a torch on small pieces of glass. Those decorative figures, such as flowers, are then kiln-fused to another glass surface.

Keen has created some unique pieces, using staining or fusion, adding an iridescent metallic finish, kiln casting, sand blasting and other processes. One of her favorites, an optical illusion, looks like the glass is bending.

The different shapes are created by heating glass in the kiln to a specific temperature and the flat glass 'slumps or drapes' over a ceramic or stainless steel mold.

Like many glass artists, Keen gives back to her community by donating some of her creations to charity auctions that benefit causes she favors, including the American Cancer Society, Oregon Food Bank, Oregon Humane Society, Animal Rescue Foundation and the Moms Club of Gresham.

Gwen Miller

Gwen Miller is the owner of Whitehouse Designs in Eagle Creek. She creates art by fusing glass and by designing beaded jewelry.

This expression of artistic talent is not new to Miller, who became fascinated with beading and jewelry while making daisy chin necklaces in a Louisiana elementary school.

Her necklaces sold for $1 each in the kids' store, helping her buy Christmas presents for her family.

Making necklaces also ignited her interest in glass and beads. When she moved to the Eagle Creek area 16 years ago, Miller started fusing glass and incorporated that technique in her jewelry.

Although making glass jewelry is her first love, Miller creates larger fused glass pieces and combines fused dichroic glass with beading in her signature pieces. When dichroic glass, with its metallic surface, is seen from different angles, it changes colors.

Miller has been showing at the Gathering of the Guilds almost since the first year of the event.

'The show is very inspiring to artists and the public,' she said, 'to see all that art.'

Alex Farnham

Alex Farnham is owner of B.L.I.S.S. Art Glass and Furniture in Sandy. She also is a glass blower and fuser at The Gorge Glashaus at McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale.

Farnham says her interest in glass came from her early life in New Jersey, in a historical area near where George Washington crossed the Delaware River.

She attended many historical re-enactments to see glass blown, and she was fascinated by the old glass bottles and antiques her father collected.

Farnham says this early American influence brings a uniqueness to her work.

She is a graduate of the art and painting program at Lewis and Clark College, and gives back by mentoring high school students and teaching blacksmithing to kids ages 11-14.

A woman of many talents and interests, Farnham earned a degree in surgical technology, and works at Oregon Health and Science University in that role.

But it is her fascination with the chemistry of making glass that shapes her artistic works.

'Glass blowing,' she said, 'is all about the adrenalin of experimentation and playing with fire.'

IF YOU GO

What: Glass Gallery Show, part of the much larger Gathering of the Guilds, a showcase of art created with a variety of media.

Who: Hundreds of Oregon and Northwest craft artists showing a variety of media such as ceramic pottery, wood, glass, metal, textiles and beads.

When: Friday through Sunday, May 4-6.

Hours: Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Blvd., Portland.

Cost: Free admission to exhibits and demonstrations.

For more information on the participating guilds, Google search for "gathering of the guilds, Portland."

For information on glass artists, visit the website oregonglassguild.org.